Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Independent Publishers are Crashing the Gates

The publishing industry is changing. Independent publishers of all sorts are crashing the gates. The range and quality of these publishers are as varied as the books they print. What the independents have in common is their willingness to try something new. Now, before anyone grabs their keyboard and fires back about the value of the current system, let me say that this post is not about getting rid of agents or the big publishing houses. Changes in the industry might eventually create a different model, but that's a long time away. What's more, the future of publishing isn't likely to create a better model for authors.

Most writers would love to have a contract with one of the big houses and a good agent to negotiate that contract. Who in their right mind would turn down a nice advance on their book, or someone to help with the promotion? But the facts are that good books are being produced by writers who have none of these advantages. Many of those books would never see print if the author hadn't crashed the industry gates.

These are difficult times for writers. On the one hand, big houses are consolidating, cutting out mid-list authors, doing less to promote books. Many of them are not willing to take a chance on unknown writers. On the other hand, there are disreputable and unscrupulous vanity presses just waiting for the chance to fleece unsuspecting writers. What's a writer to do? There are writers who have chosen self-publishing or e-publishing their work and done well, but most will never recover their costs. Once they get that book published, the work of promoting alone is amazingly hard.

Somewhere in the middle of all that are the independent publishers, those small presses carving out a place between self-published and the major houses. They are talking directly to authors, reading their own slush piles, and coming out with quality books, and doing what they can to help their writers get noticed. The result is interesting. So far the industry gatekeepers have managed to shut these books out consideration for reviews and awards, but the gates are crumbling. Publisher's Weekly acknowledged that when they recently blinked on reviews. It is only a small crack in the wall of exclusion. For now, PW is only offering to review the top 25 independent books, and they're asking the independent authors to pay for the privilege.

I, for one, won't settle for being invited into PW as a "second class" writer. I will keep working for full and equal inclusion for small press books in the reviews. But I don't underestimate the significance of the gesture. The industry knows we are at the gates and they cannot keep us out forever.

No comments: